Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chris Soda and riding with no hands


For a year or two, I saw Chris Soda probably more than any other person I didn't live or work with.  He was that ubiquitous downtown.  I knew it was him because he never touched his handlebars.  He really should've just forgone the whole front end of his bike; every part of the bike north of the seat tube was unnecessary for that guy.  Just give him some pedals and a wheel, and he'd rip through traffic unharmed.
Photo Credit: gwadzilla

But he was also a bike racer.  I saw him peel off the front end at the last-ever Turkey Day and win what he thought was the race, but was actually the one-lap-to-go non-finish line.  He crossed the line with his hands off the bars and kept them off as the pack rode by and, after the pack finished he rolled in, arms still straight at his sides.

Last year Jay Moglia told me about how Soda fell while riding out at Lost River, and how Chris kept working on getting back on the bike.  I started seeing him around town again, now with his hinds firmly gripping his bars.

I don't know if there are any bike messengers left anymore.  I don't really see any.  But I started seeing Chris everywhere again, and always on his bike. I'm not sure if he was carrying pieces of paper for anyone, or just trying to get back to where he once was--a place where he could ignore an entire hemisphere of his bicycle that the rest of us use to prop up our weary carcasses.

I don't know if we'd have connected, but there was something about seeing the guy that I loved. Maybe he, floating like a cloud through the DC streets with the greatest of ease, was doing what I, wolfing down a sandwich on my lunch break, wished I could do.

There's a Robert Frost line in which he questions why bad things sometimes seem to happen by design: "what but design of darkness to appall?"

I feel this way about Chris.  He endured a series of setbacks that suggest the world is not only uncaring, but out to get us.

On the bright side, there were people there trying to help him: Jay and Audrey of Raw Talent and guys like gwadzilla and Chris Rabadi. 

For a guy like Chris, it was probably hard to accept the help, not to mention the misfortune.

One clear Fall day last year I saw Chris swoop by up the yellow line between rush hour traffic, arms hanging straight down at his sides, smooth and confident as he was before his accident.  The front half of his bike was, once again, deadweight. 

He looked happy.


I don't understand the idea of life after death.  I do believe in empathy.  I think we do better if we think about Chris.  And, at least sometimes, maybe we let go of the handlebars for a bit and hope he's out there somewhere, riding with no hands.

4 comments:

Chuck Wagon said...

Wonderfully said, thanks. It's one of those things that will likely go unsaid as it contradicts human nature to consider such things during the grieving/remembrance process, but life doled out the shit to Soda in gigantic freaking scoops. He had a few living angels to help him with it, but the kid's spirit just could not be fucking beaten. Look at any picture you've ever seen of him, and you'd never know the pack of unsuited low cards life handed him.

That said, there was about a month straight where I nearly ran him over daily on S Street. It quickly turned into a game between us. His deft bike handling on shitty roads in shitty traffic was a stunning analog to his ability to cope with the shitty roads and traffic his life faced him with, always with a joke and a smile.

Kevin Cross said...

Thanks, brother. I've heard so many great Soda stories, including yours over at the blog, and almost all of them are about him refusing to go gently.

dj cyclone said...

Nice observations Pappy. Funny cause I never noticed that. The picture is exact. He was ALWAYS rolling that way so it seemed regular. Totally relaxed at ease taking in the streets and atmosphere to the fullest. You know. Except for times when it was toggle to low rider in the drops carving mode. And re couriers yes they are still here but harder and harder to find. Yet. The lineage moves forward. The true courier/racer. Soda embraced all it meant. The respect of the game. The history and the ambition. It is a long line and big shoes to follow. Russ Langley Chris Schmidt Zach Browne Sheba Farren Heidi Woolever Jason Stevenson Shane Groth John Whittington Tommy Kendrick. Names folks may or may not know but all clipped in and took it into far realms. I always said Soda was the last of the true courier racers but he himself has sparked new breeders like Rabadi and let's hope the chain remains unbroken. Speaking of no hands I remember Chris Schmidt aka THC in 1991 my rookie year. I was still figuring what a bike even was. Rolling in sweats and a T shirt. The city a big bulky equation. Schmidt, a former bmx rider, could glide. Like a skater. Rolling down ninth street in full traffic mode. Sitting up high in the saddle. Above it all hair in the wind. He has out a clip board and is writing. Just jotting down job notes on a manifest pre devices. Nothing to it. All the colors surrounding are bright and the space is limitless.

Kevin Cross said...

You need to write more of this stuff down, DJ.

First time I rode with Schmidt he did the most amazing thing I'd ever seen on a bike: on a wet descent a rider ahead dropped a glove and Schmidt unclipped one leg, leaned down and snagged it. The guy was only a bike length ahead, so it happened fast enough for me to have to reconstruct it mentally just to try to figure out how, a moment later, Schmidt rode up to the dude with glove in hand.